The announcement, made at an American Helicopter Society meeting in San Francisco, is being touted as a potential revolution in the way people transport themselves. The Puffin, which stands 12 feet high and has a wingspan of 13.5 feet, theoretically can cruise at 150 miles per hour and reach speeds of more like 300 miles per hour.
With its small engines, light weight, and battery power, the craft also has military applications. The Puffin is 10 times quieter than current low-noise helicopters, making it suitable for covert military operations. The electric motors are not just quiet and efficient, they also generate less heat-making them less likely to show up on thermal sensors and also requiring significantly less cooling air flowing over them. This reduced aerodynamic drag gives the Puffin a speed boost that aircraft with internal combustion engines don't get.
Researchers plan on finishing a one third-size, hover-capable Puffin demonstrator by March. The Puffin is propelled electrically and runs on rechargeable lithium phosphate batteries. That would theoretically allow it to soar as high as 30,000 feet before its batteries would begin to run low and it would be forced to descend. But scientists are confident that the Puffin's range could be increased as batteries improve over the coming years.
Discover contributed to this report.